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Lately, the buzz around artificial intelligence (AI) has reached an almost non-stop din. But with good reason. AI promises to revolutionize almost everything we do in work and life, and new tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT have given even the most casual users a small taste of what is possible — and that's just one type of AI.
Any serious discussion around AI in construction, though, must start with how it is changing the future of work. With that in mind, let’s look at how AI will transform one of the most critical roles in construction: the project manager.
The evolution of construction software
When looking at the potential for AI-powered construction management, it’s valuable to consider how construction software tools have evolved over the years.
Decades ago, software for the construction industry was heavily siloed; great solutions like CAD (computer-aided design) and BIM (building information management) transformed aspects of the industry but were developed primarily for single users, replacing pen-and-paper tasks.
The next generation of software became more collaborative. Construction management software like Procore allowed multiple users to collaborate in a workflow, improving communications, helping to mitigate revenue losses, and resolving disputes more quickly. But organizations now had numerous tools implemented piecemeal and often duplicating processes.
Now, in the emerging age of AI, we can solve that through smart software built to use other software. We can train AI to do the more common and repetitive software-related tasks on behalf of a person, resulting in automated workflows and streamlined processes. For a project manager, that means AI can take over countless repetitive, but nonetheless-necessary, administrative activities.
Digital transformation for project management
A project manager’s job is anything but simple. They must deliver a great project, on time, on budget, and with top quality. To do this, they should ideally be eyes up on the project, not eyes down, buried in data entry and documentation.
But projects have become increasingly complicated and with that complexity comes a glut of documentation. Meanwhile, the labor shortage continues to hit construction companies both in the trades and in the trailer, forcing project managers to do more with less. As a result, in a month, a typical project manager might spend a full week — one-quarter of their time — basically clicking buttons in software apps. These are business processes that AI bots can learn to execute.
Generative AI can also be used to protect General Conditions by automating away the administration and eliminating the need for extra human resources. Ultimately, AI can streamline several project management processes, such as scheduling, budgeting, and risk management. (More on that later.)
Project managers can then focus on the parts of their job that bring the most value, like fostering great relationships — whether with the various teams, subcontractors, or owners. On top of the many vital conversations project managers can have thanks to offloading up to a quarter of their work to AI, they can better focus attention on the project, catching change orders as they come in or finding opportunities to stay on top of billings. They can also make smarter decisions, armed with the information AI helps supply.
Better information = better decisions = better projects
Information is critical to any successful project. Once again, AI is a tremendous boon to project managers.
AI keeps data timelier and more up-to-date — plus eliminates human error — so project managers, project executives, and leadership can confidently rely on it to make better data-driven decisions. Thanks to this combination of better, more accurate information and more time to focus on the job, these teams can quickly identify potential cost overruns and savings opportunities. They can then dedicate the resources needed to be on time and to make jobs more profitable.
By automating workflows, invoices get processed faster, giving project managers a more accurate depiction of current job costs. And possessing more accurate data lets project managers become more predictive and proactive, resulting in even smarter decisions for the company.
Consider the difference between predicting costs based on data that is 30 days old versus data just three minutes old. Think about how stale information is when you’re stuck forecasting a job once a month but, meanwhile, changes come continuously and job activities happen daily. AI tools can give project managers the information they need in a heartbeat, not a month.
This information also helps to mitigate the countless risks on a project, whether financial, safety, scheduling, or operational. Again, this is both by providing more accurate data and freeing up project manager time to focus on and identify them.
The AI training wheels are off
While it's safe to say AI is no longer in its infancy, it could be thought of as a toddler. The training wheels are off, but it can only go so far down the street alone. So far, we’ve only scratched the surface of how it will ultimately transform the future of work.
For AI to become a truly transformative tool for construction project managers it must become more vertically focused. ChatGPT might help you write a great email, but it knows nothing about how an individual construction company or specific job operates. In the future, watch for AI tools to become increasingly focused on the industries they serve, such as construction, manufacturing, and healthcare.
Also, like a toddler, AI is not yet at a stage where it doesn’t need "adult" supervision or babysitting. It still needs human oversight and AI needs the project manager to teach it how to do its job. It takes time. Start small, look at how AI might change documenting RFIs or change orders, and then build from there. The results will still be extraordinary.
Over time as AI tools become more advanced, learn precisely how to help with project management, and are built around the unique DNA of construction companies, it will no longer be a question of how far down the street it can ride, but how high it can help the company soar.
Briq’s AI can help your business automate workflows, create detailed forecasting based on historical and current data, and improve your data accuracy. Want to find out more about what Briq can do for your business? Schedule a call with our team.